Dealing with Crashing – How to Heal Your Mental Game

The pursuit of speed in bicycle racing is, without a doubt, an all-consuming endeavor. Riders withhold food to meet race weight, refuse normal medication to pass drug tests, and sacrifice their youth and health all in the name of pleasing the cycling gods. And when you are fast, it seems like nothing will ever slow you down. But what if the, in cycling’s case, quite imaginable happens and you crash, hard?

Today, I’d like to talk a little about actively recovering from injuries on the bike. Whether you are racing as a pro or riding for fun, it is always jarring to hit the deck, but the most important thing to remember is to not let it beat you. No one ever wants to crash, but if you ride long enough it is a foregone conclusion that you will, at some point, feel the asphalt up against you. And, even though it may feel like it, believe me: it is not the end of the world! Even if you are missing a bunch of skin or bones get broken in the process, the body has an amazing ability to heal. However, the part that needs to heal alongside the body is your mental game.

Most important when recovering from a serious wreck is to follow your physician’s advice. You paid to visit them and ask their opinion, so it is best to listen, even if you don’t like it. I have had injuries where I was told to take a few weeks off the bike, but I did not listen. Starting to ride again, before it was recommended, only made the situation worse. Once you do get the go ahead to start riding again, it will likely be best to slowly work back into it. Going from total rest to multiple hour, high intensity rides, will only make your comeback that much slower. It is best to start with a ride you would have previously considered a light recovery day and then slowly increase until your body is used to the training stress once more.

Now once you are back on the bike, it is important to start repairing the mental “damage.” If your crash was from pilot-error, then I would suggest that (once you have your legs back under you) you practice whatever it was that caused you to crash. It is important to take baby steps during this “mental recovery” process, though, as crashing again will only hurt your recovery that much more. But, being mindful of the reason you went down and practicing that skill will help you to never crash for that reason again. So, if you hit the deck from careening around a corner to fast, then focus on your entry speed. If you crashed from riding in blustery cross winds, then try to ride in (slightly slower) cross winds to build that skill. These little steps will help to minimize any negative emotions that accompany what caused your tumble.

Another question I get asked frequently is: “Should I race immediately following a wreck?” Unfortunately, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all response. I have raced the day after a crash and likewise I have skipped races the day after a crash. For me it all depends on my mental state following the spill. Sometimes I get motivated by the incident and want the soonest opportunity to redeem myself, but I have also been beaten by a wreck and needed some time to recover.

In the end, crashing and the resulting recovery is a very personal ordeal. I have had minor crashes wreak havoc on entire seasons and have also ridden to podium results the same day as a tumble. Deciding whether or not to race right away and recovering from a spill, are extremely individualized decisions and should be treated as such. Just remember, have a good time and keep the rubber side down.